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308: Upper Chapel, Sheffield, England
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Upper Chapel, Sheffield
Mystery Worshipper: Harry the Lime.
The church: Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, England.
Denomination: Unitarian.
The building: Entrance – four Greek columns in Palladian style. Interior – compact but stylish little chapel, with some very fine stained-glass windows by Henry Holiday. This place is a must-see if you're ever in Sheffield. It's open Tuesday lunchtime/early afternoon for people to look around.
The neighbourhood: More churches within spitting distance of one another than you can shake a stick at.
The cast: Rev. Geoffrey Usher.
What was the name of the service?
Morning Service.

How full was the building?
Let me put it this way: they're not going to need the services of Sherlock Holmes to deduce who the Mystery Worshipper was...

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The doorman said "hello" in a "here's-your-hymn-book-go-in-and-sit-down" sort of way. (Although, to be fair, he may just have been in shock at seeing a strange face.)

Was your pew comfortable?
Extremely! I actually had decent leg-room, which is unheard of in any other Victorian-era church of my experience. Shaped backs to the pews give full support to the spine (and all this from people who'd never have heard of ergonomics). These things are the Rolls-Royce of pews. I seriously wanted to take one home with me.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Somnolent – I think mainly because the congregation were seated too far apart to catch one another on their hearing-aids.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The beauty of the world awakens every morning with the sun." (No. I had no idea either.)

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Unitarian Orders of Worship, and Hymns for Living.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ – a very fine three-manual one, originally built by Edward Wadsworth of Manchester.

Did anything distract you?
The pea and ham soup that I'd had the previous evening made me glad there wasn't anyone sitting too close!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Near-terminal. A choir of three (approx. 20 per cent of the congregation) were doing their best, but a smattering of OAP's aren't likely, with the best will in the world, to raise the roof of a Wendyhouse, let alone a full-blown chapel.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
14 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – Was concerned at the beginning that he sounded like he was about to quote from the "Bumper Book of Unitarian Sermons". However, he quickly settled into a competent effort. Felt that he needed to be a little less restrained, though.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
What with it being Palm Sunday and all, the reading was Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. The preacher focused on the feelings of the various participants and witnesses of the event – asking where are we in the "crowd"?

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The building. It really is a most marvellous piece of devotional architecture. Beauty and function combine seamlessly and I'd trade any of the churches I've been in over the years for this one.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The order of service. It made a struggling congregation even more stilted. I think that it probably does more harm than good in such small congregations.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I'm the invisible man! But then I was caught by the preacher as I made to leave, and he asked if I would stay for coffee. A few people nodded hellos to me as I drank my coffee, and then I left.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Bad. As bad as only after-service coffee can be.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – If I could place my home church in this building, it would be 20 out of 10 (the pews are worth 10 points on their own).

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, I guess it did, in a restrained sort of way...

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The building, especially those pews! I think I'm in love with a piece of furniture...
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